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A Letter from Fastaval

fastatoThe Danish role-playing/freeform/semilarp convention Fastaval is held in Easter every year. It draws several international participants. I came here for the first time last year, and was instantly hooked. So many slightly pretentious storygame nerds like myself in one single spot. Hurrah! The main attraction for me is the scenario tradition they have here.

Every year, around 30 scenarios are written especially for the festival. On Sunday, there will be a galla evening in mock Oscar style, where the prestigious (and slightly silly) golden ”Otto” penguin statue is handed out in various categories; best script, best story, best methods, best characters, etc.

I’ve gotten to play five games this year. I’ll write a little about each experience:

This Miracle
A game simulating religions. I only played parts of this. The warm-up/set-up was perfect. Probably the best warm-up I’ve seen in this kind of game. There was chanting, we told a collective story (that worked amazingly well considering how many players we were), and we told each other about our favorite mythological characters. Loki, Baron Samedi, The First of The Fallen, etc. I felt very smart telling the group about my relationship with Peter Parker. Then we picked Jungian archetypes to play in the game proper. Only trouble is, I felt I was being prepared for something very different from what I later got to play.

The game has an ambitious structure. We started with a large group of maybe twenty people, who were later divided into smaller groups who were to establish various myths from a fictitious religion, craft physical artifacts representing the myth, that were later handed over to other groups as the myth was passed on. So the various groups interacted, and obviously had to be timed and coordinated. There were some later stages to play, but in the end I opted out of the game. The group I was in was a little dysfunctional, the GM seemed slightly stressed and curt, and I was tired from lack of sleep (I’d spent too much time the night before fiddling with me and Magnar’s Nordic Larp Generator).

I was initially psyched to play the Jungian archetype I was given during warm-up. I picked ”The Ruler”, since I’m not very much of a Ruler in RL. I had started looking forward to playing some kind of mix between the elder Lannister in Game of Thrones and Obama. But when we were split up in smaller groups, we went straight into collaborative storytelling. I think we were supposed to play our archetypes narrating the myth, but I quickly realized me being a stern, pompous Ruler in that circumstance would be of no use to anyone.

So anyway, I left the game, as it seemed it wouldn’t break the game for the remaining players (there wasn’t any pre-established plot depending on my character’s presence).

Room
A surreal ”semi-larp” about a boy and a mother who were held captive in a shed by a man (who was secretly the boy’s father). All told from the child’s perspective, with the room itself as a ”meta-character”. Semi-larp means you push tables and chairs aside and act out the characters like in improvised theatre or larp (obviously). But unlike larp there are no costumes, and you don’t change locations much. Fastaval games are mostly played in the classrooms of the school where the convention happens. So that’s the physical setting we have to work with (no castle).

fastavalI was the game master for this, and it was my first time running a game at Fastaval. I don’t have that much experience facilitating this kind of out-on-the-floor freeform. So that was an interesting experience. When actual play started, after the set-up and warm-up, my job was mostly to establish and end scenes.

The backstory of the scenario reminded me of those weird and terrible stories of women held captive for several years in Austrian basements, but the pure horror of the boy and mother’s situation was consciously subdued by the author of the scenario. Placed in the background, as the child’s fantasy world, interacting with his imaginary friends in the room, was at the forefront.

Our run wasn’t perfect, mostly because of my inexperience with the format, but I found it to be an interesting and at times moving/intense experience.

Grotesque
My favorite this festival was a comedy about an art scene (not at all similar to the Nordic Larp/Nordic freeform scenes). The characters were a group of men who were in an art group doing some kind of improv/performance stuff for large audiences. Play switched between present and past, doing flashbacks to their time of notoriety and big shows, contrasted with the slightly more has-been vibe of present day, with some comeback aspirations mixed in.

The author, a Danish stand-up comedian and Fastaval veteran, ran the game for us. This was a sit-down game, play happening purely in our conversation and whatever body-language and facial expressions you can do sitting down (all the remaining games were, so I won’t repeat this).

Tales from Five Fallen Realms
Nano-games! The concept is as follows: you’re divided into groups, but there’s no game master. You’re simply given five different games, each written on a postcard. Then the groups select however many games they want to try out during the two hour period they have availbale (the other games I played were in 5 hour slots, but didn’t always last that long). Our group selected The Bunker and Split Utopia.

miracle

Artifacts crafted during our run of «This Miracle».

– Split Utopia was a world-building sci-fi game. I thought the rules sounded a bit boring at first, but it worked really well. We established various aspects of a sci-fi setting, and then narrated how it gradually crumbled. All of this was GM-less, so we had to depend on whatever experience the players had with improv and collective storytelling. There are limits to how many instructions fit on a postcard, but fortunately the group seemed very experienced.

– The Bunker was a post-apocalyptic sci-fi (crumbled societies being the theme of this year’s Nanogames). We played a group of astronauts who had returned to the remnants of Earth, exploring a bunker which was (in our game at least), ”Humanity’s last stand”. Then there were flashback scenes were we got glimpse of what society was like before the fall. It worked quite well, and we told a fairly coherent story, but it suffered from some of the faults I often see in GM-less games, where you have small tug-of-wars between the players. Saying ”say yes” is fairly easy, actually playing that way requires both the will to let go and maybe some experience doing just that.

Demons
In signing up for games at this year’s Fastaval, I consciously tried to avoid the ”heaviest” topics. There were mental institutions, abusive fathers and war widows to be had, but I largely stayed away. However, the two designers of Demons had given me very strong experiences with previous games, so I gave ”Demons” a go.

The characters were Korean ”comfort women” during the second world war. Sex-slaves in a Japanese concentration camp. I had some superficial knowledge of the topic before I went to the game, but no more than that.

I won’t do the scenario justice here, but I’ll jot down some brief thoughts:

– The designers had chosen a kind of ”magical realism”, where the world of the women gradually became more dreamlike, and their captors turned into actual demons (animal-like caricatures).
– Was it torture porn? No. We were instructed to tone down that kind of play, so the worst things were rarely made explicit. Scenes were cut, there were muted sounds instead of direct narration of certain scenes etc. It worked fairly well.
– Do you gain direct experience of a historical period through RPGs or larp? No. But you may learn stuff, gain an interest to explore further, and so on. I’ve never really given the topic ”what would it be like to be an 80 year old Korean woman who survived a Japanese concentration camp” much thought. Maybe I will now. My grandmother, who is still alive, has sometimes told us how angry she was when she witnessed German soldiers parading Russian (?) prisoners in Norway during WWII. We could have been other people. I think role playing can help us empathize.
– I don’t understand, but I can try to.

Yeah. I won’t go further into it right now. Maybe later, when it has had time to sink in a bit. The game was only five hours ago.

Those were the games I played. Other than that, I’ve enjoyed being able to hang out with people I usually just interact with on social media the rest of the year.

I also got to do a Nordic Larp battle-rap with Evan Torner. That’s probably the nerdiest thing I’ve done so far this year, and I do fairly nerdy shit all the time.

Love from Denmark.

(Most of these games will be made available on http://alexandria.dk, primarily in Danish, but sometimes they’re translated to English, too at some point.)

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